Univision Buys The Root, Signaling Key Shift in Media Power

Will their approach to attract Millennial consumers work?

Last week, Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the country, bought The Root, a news and entertainment site that caters largely to a black audience. The Root was owned by Graham Holdings, the former owner of The Washington Post. The site sees around 5 million unique users per month, according to ComScore, and the amount Univision paid went undisclosed. In their takeover, Univision said it had no plans to change The Root's editorial mission.

During the announcement, President and CEO of Univision's news and digital departments, Isaac Lee, called the purchase a "game-changing union," and said that "our diverse communities are continuing to define the fabric of the country, from buying power, to social influence, to elections."

And that's why this acquisition could be a key marker in the rapidly changing media landscape.

In a move that may have set the stage for The Root acquisition, in 2013 Univision partnered with ABC (owned by Disney) to create Fusion, an online news site intended to wrangle the confounding Millennial market (the Pew Research Center's assessment called Millennials "relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry"¦"). What Millennials are, though, is the most racially diverse generation ever, and it seems that's what Univision has bet on.

"If you look at Millennials, and Generation Y," says Marlene Morris Towns, a professor of marketing at Georgetown University, "they have a much more multicultural attitude. It's not like back when MTV played white music videos and BET played Black videos, and if you wanted to see either-or you have to switch channels."

Unlike some other major news sites directed at young consumers, Fusion is different in that it has a Latino angle. With The Root in its arsenal, Univision is poised to easily reach a sizable chunk of the country's online black audience. Like the American Latino population, that audience is much younger than the country's white population.

That's a smart financial move considering that those two groups hold America's top ethnic minority buying power, according to a 2014 study by the University of Georgia. (Latinos in the U.S. comprise a market larger than the economies of all but 15 countries in the world, the report notes.) "Brands that have really embraced culture and the otherness of our society aren't playing catch up like the other brands are," Towns says. "And people notice that."

So Univision's acquisition of The Root marks a play for a growing American audience. One that is increasingly of color. "It's valorizing to Latino and African American consumers," says Frances Negrón-Muntaner, an author, documentary maker, and professor at Columbia University. "To think that at this time, that people think that the future of our country is in people of color. That's symptomatic that we're in another moment."